Have you ever heard of a high school coach missing a game, no wait, a sectional playoff game, to attend a reunion?
How do you think that would go over with the players? With their parents? With the school administration? Can you imagine the uproar?
“Well, they said ‘Hi,’ and they asked me how Vegas was,” said Blake boys varsity hockey head coach Rob McClanahan. “They asked if I had fun, then we went about our business.”
In McClanahan’s defense, it wasn’t just ANY reunion. The event was the 40th anniversary of the ‘Miracle on Ice,’ which called for a weekend in ‘Sin City’ with his 1980 U.S. Olympic teammates, and, when he took the job on an interim basis last summer, McClanahan told everybody that in February, there might be an issue.
“I told (Blake A.D.) Nick Rathmann when I accepted that I had this conflict if it comes up and we make the section semis, I’m not going to be there. and he said, that’s okay, we’ll deal with it then,” said McClanahan. “So, then we pick the team and get the team captains, but first, I told my coaches, then I met the parents of the team captains and I told them, but then I told no one else until the night after we beat Hopkins.”
The win over the Royals put the Bears into the section 6AA semifinals against hockey royalty Edina. But for the first-year head coach and his team, it was business as usual, even when it wasn’t.
“I told the players, and then I gave them my little spiel…my pre-game spiel, except I didn’t give it to them before the game, I gave it to them after the Hopkins game,” said McClanahan. “So, we always have three coaches on the bench. Against Edina, there were only two, and the boys played well. They came through and they kept me up on it via text, so I was happy to hear that they had handled that game.”
After handling Edina 5-1 without their head coach, the Bears earned a trip to state by beating Benilde-St.Margaret 4-3 on an overtime penalty shot: a gut-check that McClanahan had been preparing his young men for all season.
“Everybody asks me if I’m having fun? I’m not. I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but I’m not doing this to have fun,” said McClanahan. “I’m doing this to help these young men realize that they are, A, capable of far more than they ever dreamed of, and B, getting them to realize the power of a group. Regardless of the talent, it can be spectacular if it’s done together and if no one really cares who gets the credit.”
Does that coaching philosophy sound familiar? It should, because McClanahan makes no bones about the fact that he is heavily influenced by the late Herb Brooks, and he feels duty-bound to help these young men live a similar experience, regardless of wins and losses.
“These kids are pushed to their limits in terms of speed, quickness, all of that,” said McClanahan. “They’re also going to be in shape because you have to be physically capable of handling a game when it’s tied 3-3 in overtime. If you’re not conditioned…you’re going to break down. If not physically, mentally. So, It’s hard. We work hard. They work hard.”
McClanahan took off the ‘interim’ tag in January and is looking to stay at the helm of the Blake program for the foreseeable future. But first, there’s this week’s state tournament, one of the few titles that escaped McClanahan during his standout hockey career.
“I want the boys to embrace what’s in front of them, not to run away from it, not to let it paralyze them. To work through, because things will not go according to plan. To make adjustments, to work together, to come to achieve a common goal. And hopefully, find that regardless of the outcome, they will remember this for the rest of their lives.”